Matter of fact

Cesare PastorinoI am a lecturer and researcher (Habilitation track) in the Institute of Philosophy & History of Literature, Science & Technology at Technical University Berlin. In Italy, I studied Greek and Latin, history and philosophy and got a B.Sc. in Physics. I also studied in England and the United States (Lancaster University, Imperial College, and Indiana University) and completed a Ph.D. in history and philosophy of science at Indiana University (2011), with a dissertation on Francis Bacon, experiment, and early Stuart culture.

Afterwards, I was a fellow at the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, a postdoctoral fellow at the Berlin Center for the History of Knowledge and a senior research fellow at the Vossius Center for History of Humanities and Sciences (University of Amsterdam). I also worked for several years in two leading digital history projects: The Chymistry of Isaac Newton and The Newton Project.

My work focuses on the origins and development of early modern experimentation (broadly conceived) and on practical knowledge, with an interdisciplinary approach. I am also a specialist on the philosopher and statesman Francis Bacon. Currently, I am the principal investigator in the 3-year project grant “The Weight of Things. Quantification of Matter and the Exchange of Technical and Learned Knowledge in Early Modern Europe,” financed by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Recently organized:

The Experimental and Interdisciplinary Reconfiguration of Dense and Rare in the Long Sixteenth-Century (TU Berlin 11 December 2017)

Recent work:

The Philosopher and the Craftsman. Francis Bacon’s Notion of Experiment and its Debt to Early Stuart Inventors.” Isis. A journal of the History of Science Society, 108, no. 4 (December 2017): 749-768.  https://doi.org/10.1086/695538 (open access until July 15 2018)

abstract: the key role that Francis Bacon played in the re-evaluation of mechanical arts is a well-established tenet of the scholarship on the Scientific Revolution. However, scholars tend to assume that Bacon’s knowledge of technologies and their methods came from learned texts and that his familiarity with the crafts of his time was scant or non-existent. By contrast, this essay shows that Bacon’s philosophical discussion of experimentation owes a large debt to his concrete acquaintance with early Stuart craftsmen applying for royal privileges and patents for new technical inventions.  Bacon personally supervised the drafting of many of these privileges. In his philosophical work, he adapted legal requirements -devised to identify inventions unambiguously- to describe and analyze experimental practices. This evidence directly affects the long-standing debate on the role of crafts in the rise and development of early modern science. In the case of Francis Bacon, it is possible to find a concrete and precise connection between crafts methodologies and the philosophical description of experimentation.

The Baconian Natural and Experimental Histories as an Epistemic Genre.” Draft.

abstract: In 1622, Francis Bacon published his Historia naturalis et experimentalis. Many of the features of Bacon’s natural and experimental histories were entirely new. This paper studies this literary form as a new epistemic genre. In particular, it analyzes its origin and evolution in Bacon’s work, focusing on how its basic template and features were influenced by Bacon’s specific epistemic requirements. It shows that Bacon devised these features in the process of developing a Historia mechanica, or a history of the mechanical arts, drawing on the particular case of the technical recipe. From antiquity, the recipe had been the dominant epistemic genre for recording and communicating technical knowledge.  However, this paper suggests that the recipe format did not meet Francis Bacon’s epistemic necessities. In particular, this format was incompatible with the goal of keeping experimentation and its reporting open-ended and flexible. More generally, the acknowledgment of the provisional, historical character of knowledge was a tenet of what Bacon called an ‘initiative’ method of knowledge transmission, or a method of ‘probation.’ According to this approach, knowledge ‘ought to be delivered and intimated, if it were possible, in the same method wherein it was invented’ and discovered.  Only the display of its tentative features would encourage and stimulate others to improve and advance it. The format of the new genre of natural and experimental histories grew out of Bacon’s dissatisfaction with the way in which recipes hid the imperfection of the process of knowledge production.